Faith, Language, Violence
22 • 08 • 19György Cséka
The show Furnishing the Meaning – INDA Gallery presents emerging Hungarian photographers presented seemingly quite a different series of photographs by three young artists in one space. What did nevertheless link these works was the experience of strangeness and untranslatability in our time, whether pertaining to another country, culture or faith, or in terms of the incompatibility of languages.
In a paradoxical yet self-evident manner, Liza Szabó’s work translates the basic premise and problem of translation theory into images, namely that there is no such thing as accurate and absolutely faithful translation, no gateway from one language to another. The reason is that it is not merely the language that ought to be translated, but also the culture, lifestyle, disposition, and history, and if so required, in a single brief sentence at that. It can and should be attempted, but proves impossible to be accomplished with perfect accuracy and congruity. From a radical point of view, translation is impossible. This, however, is easily contradicted by our culture and daily life. However superficially or inaccurately, but we do after all understand each other or the other culture to some extent. More precisely, what happens is more of a lucky moment of comprehension accidentally emerging out of a series of fundamental misunderstandings.
Liza Szabó’s works target and attempt to disentangle or to the contrary, jumble the threads of understanding in the most relentless and problematic field of language. Idioms, proverbs, and adages are almost impossible to translate, only rather distant approximations are possible. In her series, she provides the most accurate literal translations of various proverbs of different nations (English, Turkish, Portuguese, Hungarian, Spanish, Dutch, Chinese, Finnish, etc.) – into images. The meaning of the proverbs, almost always figurative, is cancelled, extinguished by this gesture. What we see is a set of mysterious activities and objects. The captions of the images blur the obscurity further, as even though we can read the proverb in its original language, along with its English and Hungarian translations, we fail to understand either of them without an explanation. The website of the series, though, does include brief explanations for each image.
The origin of most idioms is obscure and therefore their meaning is difficult to deduce. The photographs are printed on a material similar to that of flags, and in addition to this, their colour scheme and composition represent the national colours of each nation. Liza Szabó’s work, her ruthless guide (Guide for Foreigners) constructs merry yet also tragic cul-de-sacs of our understanding and communication. The two photographs of her series Form from shake us up in another manner. We are confronted with abstract photos made by using analogue devices but imitating digital origin and unadulterated image manipulation. We cannot really make sense of them by mere observation, as from a certain distance they might as well be paintings.
Boglárka Zellei’s series Furnishing the Sacred shows people being baptised in diverse locations: the priest, the baptised, the pool and the surrounding space. The rhetoric of the photographs is objective, with an endeavour to show the environment, the framework of immersion rather than peeping at the personal drama on the faces and intruding on the personal space of the baptised. Voyeurism is the least suitable term to describe this mode of expression. Nevertheless, the effect and reception of the images, owing to their nature as well as the means of installation, is paradoxical.
An interview (in Hungarian) reveals that faith, and thus these photographs, have personal significance to the artist. Faith, however, is essentially a matter of the soul, of the subject, it is difficult to see, to formulate, to convey. Looking at these images, we might not feel and understand the same things as the artist. Of course, actual reception and comprehension always diverge from what the artwork or the artist intends to convey. The interpretation of art is another translation problem, doomed likewise to unfeasibility and dead-end. Only approximation is possible. In this case, perhaps the posited distance between the artwork and its recipient is a little too much. One of the causes of this is the distanced rhetoric, the diversion of the gaze from the subject’s drama, showing more of a wide-angle panorama of the environment, in which the people are dwarfed almost to the point of disappearing in most cases. The gaze predominantly perceives the architectural, material environment. From this follows the other cause of distance. Like religious art, architecture has also become quite problematic since the modern period. In short: it is difficult to find artworks that could be regarded as more than merely kitschy, didactic illustrations of the articles of faith. The same goes for the mostly not quite inventive architectural exteriors and interiors.
But: Boglárka Zellei undertook perhaps the most difficult role an artist can come up with. Thematising, conveying, showing faith in the scope of an intimate experience in the context of artworks is a task bordering on the impossible.
As Boglárka Zellei’s photographs mainly focus on the architectural environment, these are the main subjects of our assessment. The mundane quality of the various locations, their most of the time completely ad-hoc tastelessness devoid of any spirituality thus underscores not the solemnity and intimacy of the situation but its absurdity instead. The spectator is watching from outside – for there is no other way to do so – what is essentially taking place within, but in an absolutely alienating, uncanny, grotesque, and even funny environment. I presume that in this manner, the photographs end up having the exact opposite of their intended effect.
Adél Koleszár has invested years in making an effort to translate Mexico into a visual language for herself and for us. Titled Wounds of Violence, her latest selection comprises photographs as well as a video screening, and it conveys all she can see and understand from a foreign culture, in a language that is mysteriously dense and thick as blood. The two key characteristics of this culture are the perseverance of faith and religiousness, which have abated in Western societies, along with violence and death to an extent that appears immense and unfathomable to us. Although the two characteristics seem to be distinct, in a sense they are one-two faces of the same coin.
The world of Adél Koleszár’s photographs reveals brutal crudeness that is unusual for us, a direct and sensual attitude to the existence, notably the dark side of it. Almost all the people portrayed are wounded, injured, cut or beaten; the landscapes most probably depict cemeteries or mass graves; the skeleton of a snake or a minuscule detail suggests the presence of violence, say, a bullet that even tints the entire image red. There is one photo that is almost superfluous as we have been indirectly shown the same in all the others: it seems to capture fragments of two or more people fighting, wrestling, shouting or loving one another, or all of these at once. Dying all together. Koleszár’s photographs are familiar with only a few colours: the red of blood, the blue of beating, the black of death, the grey of ash. They express everything with this limited and radical palette. Or more precisely: they express the photographer’s glance, her vision of a strange, the once familiar and alarming world. Almost every image reveals such apparitions, with the figures, landscapes or objects shrouded in almost complete obscurity, or emerging out of strong light for a startling moment. As if we were experiencing a deep and sombre dream from which there is no awakening. Of a culture that appears not to have learned to speak and engage in dialogue yet, and only understands the language of violence, of all against all and men against women.
The artists of Furnishing the Meaning talk about how difficult it is to tell anything, especially in the language of images. But showing the difficulty is more than half success. We see unsettling images that make us think. And that is quite something.
Furnishing the Meaning
- June 2019. – 23. August 2019.